AUGUSTA, Maine — On Tuesday Maine Youth Justice, a nonpartisan campaign to end youth incarceration in Maine, held a rally and press conference outside of the Capital Judicial Center to urge leaders to close the Long Creek Youth Development Center by 2021.
Long Creek is the last remaining youth prison in Maine.
“Long Creek is a symbol of Maine’s failed youth justice system, and we cannot wait to close the doors on this outdated and ineffective prison," Maine Youth Justice Campaign Director Al Cleveland said.
"The young people that are here today are rallying because their friends, themselves, their neighbors, are living in poverty," Cleveland told NEWS CENTER Maine at the rally. "They’re living with housing insecurity and they don’t have their basic needs met, and what we see is that it’s possible to meet all of those needs, to give every young person in the state a home, the care, and love, but we need to find the money and we found it: it’s currently being held up and locked up in a youth prison."
The advocates outlined recommendations for how to transform Maine's youth justice system. They are also calling for Long Creek's $18.2 million state budget to be reallocated to community-based programs that would serve as an alternative to detaining or placing young people in the prison.
Their recommendations include tearing down a part of the facility and renovate the rest into housing and a youth center for the community.
Randall Liberty, Maine Dept. of Corrections commissioner, said there’s been a significant reduction in the population at Long Creek from 300 to 46. The recommendations suggest investing more money into community-based diversion, and Liberty says they’re doing some of that work now, and that they should continue to fund the programs already in place and seek additional funding for more community-based programs.
The rally and press conference was held before the Juvenile Justice System Assessment & Reinvestment Task Force met for its February meeting at the Capital Judicial Center, happening from noon to 4 p.m.
Established last May, the Task Force was formed “to examine the state's juvenile justice system and develop recommendations for a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration for system-involved youth and those at risk for becoming involved in the justice system.”
The task force has been working with the staff from the Center for Children's Law and Policy (CCLP) to assess the efficacy of the current system and develop recommendations to improve outcomes for system-involved youth.
Maine Youth Justice says they plan to continue speaking out "until their demands to close down Long Creek are taken into account and Maine makes investments to strengthen a continuum of community-based support and programs to prevent youth from entering or moving deeper into the youth justice system."